Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Trouble with Truth

Sometimes a conversation starts and you think you know where it is going, and then it surprises you and takes a turn you did not expect...  I had one of those this morning.  I was flipping through a magazine I recently subscribed to while sitting at the kitchen table having coffee and chatting with my husband.  I was reading him snippets of articles that were interesting... All written by mothers and wives seeking to be women of virtue, and I came across that dreaded word you don't hear so much in association with marriage these days..."obey".  I turned the page and said something to the effect of "what an old fashioned chauvinistic way of thinking".  And my sweet and wise husband who normally would not plunge into these deep waters without first thinking said, "But look how happy they are.  Look at their families, how simply they live.  I'm no chauvinist, but there is something to be said for those 'old fashioned' values."  Whoa. I was NOT expecting that.

So I took a deep breath and tentatively stepped into the water with him.  I asked him to elaborate.  He said he felt our family had no clear leader... That maybe I (really? me?) was not really willing to submit to anyone else's authority.  And I said, "so you are saying I am not a submissive wife?" (I think he may have held back a chuckle here, I can't be sure) Now, I should clarify that he was not suggesting that I not have an opinion, or a voice, or that I shouldn't have some authority in our home.. I knew exactly what he meant.  I did not have to think long before I saw the reason... It is impossible to be submissive and defensive at the same time.  And I am carrying some baggage that causes me to fear giving anyone else the ability to take advantage of me, fear that I will lose my voice, and ultimately myself (again) so I defend.  I stand tall and strong and pretend to be in charge.  And he lets me because he is gentle and patient, and to some degree understands the why behind it all.  I had fooled myself into thinking this was working for us until this morning.  I am thankful he was vulnerable enough to say what was in his heart, though it raised some questions I have turned over in my mind all day.

As I said, these are deep waters, and I am not really able to articulate all that is floating around in my head just yet... But I know that this is one area God and I will be doing some work on.  Or, I guess I should say, I will "submit" to whatever work God chooses to do in me.  (See?  I really do like to be in charge.)  I don't like the fact that God keeps holding up that mirror of truth and letting me see the ugliness still within, but at least in His mercy He usually just gives me one area at a time to deal with.  So, I guess this is "goodbye, control freak" and "hello sweet virtuous and lovely submissive wife".  Oh my. This will not be a quick fix, I fear!  But true beauty is never easy... It always starts on the inside, right?  Too bad there isn't a 7-day herbal cleanse for this kind of stuff!  I am very thankful God gave me ears to hear my husband's heart this morning. Now it is time to do something about it.  When I figure out what, exactly, I will probably write about that.  For now, I am just praying for a softer, more trusting heart and for the grace to grow into a wife that truly honors God.  A pretty good place to start, I think.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Gift of Now

Time to slow down.  That's been the message.... The soft whisper in my soul, the quiet words in my mind. And still I hurry.  I hurry to get kids fed and off to school, I hurry to get myself ready for the day, I hurry to load babies in carseats, I hurry to get home to start dinner and homework and snacks and laundry, I hurry to do the dishes and hurry kids off to bed.  And still He whispers, "Kari, slow down.  Take time to be present in these moments without looking to the next one." And I hear it, and I think that I will slow down, maybe just once I get the kitchen clean and the laundry put away.  How can  a mama slow down with so much to be done?

And that's when it hits.  Two little ones with stomach viruses. Everything else stops spinning and I focus on just these two pitiful ones.  I don't do dishes, I don't cook, I don't fold any clothes or put on any makeup.  I just hold them, wash their faces with a cool cloth, sit with them, sing to them... I send my regrets for parties and events on my calendar, and the to-do list gets lost in the pile of unopened mail on the table.  And the world doesn't crumble around me.  The house still stands, the children still get fed, and by some small miracle I regain some lost piece of myself in the not-doing.

Today is day 4 of the virus, which unfortunately has passed from little ones to Daddy.  And just today it occurred to me that it was all by design... That just maybe I was saying "no" to the one thing we all needed most.  It is hard to be fully present with so many things pulling me away, until I have no choice.  While I am not thankful that my family has been ill, I am very grateful that God has used this time to remind me that I don't have to do it all.  That He does not need me to run the world.  (Imagine that?)  That it is not only ok, but necessary to just be still sometimes.

For some weeks now, I have been in the process of evaluating my time and how I spend it, making changes to my schedule and obligations so that I can be here and available.  I am thankful for a God who calls me back to the now and shows me where I have overextended myself.  I don't want my legacy to be "She washed a lot of dishes and ran a lot of errands."  I want to give them more of myself than what's leftover after all the menial and mundane tasks are checked off my list.  There will always be more laundry to fold and more dishes to wash. But there won't always be kids sitting at my table doing homework, or babies to read to.  If I'm not careful and intentional, I might miss it.  And to miss it for something so meaningless as an empty sink would be a tragedy, indeed.

As my family is on the mend, I am praying for a fresh awareness of what's really important that will last into the coming days and weeks and months, that I won't forget next week when the pace of this season tries to sweep me away to just be present.  To be here, now.  Because now is a gift.

"Live wisely... and make the most of every opportunity."  Colossians 4:5

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mommy Panic

Moms are women. (Usually, anyway... but that's a topic for another day.) And as women, we are prone to moments that lack logic when it comes to our kids, right? I had a moment like that today.  It started this morning when my 15 year old son hopped out of bed bright and early at 8:30am on a Saturday and informed me we needed to go shopping.  But not for just anything... for a tie he could wear to the homecoming dance that would match his date's dress.  And I felt my heart skip a beat.  We had discussed all this earlier in the week, of course, but this morning it became reality!  And no, this wasn't his first dance, or even his first homecoming, but when you have a kid in high school, suddenly every occasion seems momentous... I started thinking, "Wow, this is the last year he will need me to 'take' him anywhere, next year he will be driving himself to buy ties, and the next year he will have his very last homecoming at Grissom High School, and then he will be gone forever and I'll have to beg him to come visit me, and who could blame him for staying away so much when life in this family is such a crazy mess!"  See, this is where the "lack of logic" comes into play.  And he is a son, a boy, a male, a man, and therefore not entirely comfortable with these moments of mommy panic.  The moments when all I can see in his face is that intense and serious little boy he once was, and how he's come out of his shell so much and how much I love who he is and at the same time miss that little boy soooo very much...  How proud I am that he is so independent and how much I miss being needed. (You should know that I type these words with tears flowing... Is there any other way to watch a child grow up? Joy and sorrow all mixed in together.. Are there even words to describe this?)

So I panic, but not because I fear for him. This young man is smart, capable, independent and competent.  He will excel.  But my mommy heart selfishly breaks a little each time I watch him take another step toward his future, because I fear it will take him far from me.  I know, I know... that is the way life is.  But gosh, no one told me it would happen so soon.  Or maybe they did, and I was too wrapped up in the little years to be able to wrap my head and heart around that as well.  And I want to tell him so many things, but at 15 he really has it all figured out, you know.  I wonder sometimes if he remembers... Sharing blueberry "beagles" for breakfast in the recliner while we watched Sesame Street, making costumes out of underwear, football helmets and legos, playing the "panio" with mommy, reading 10 stories at bedtime, playing games on the carpet, teaching his baby brother to hit a baseball off a tee... A million memories I have of this child and now he is out making his own... And I am proud.  And sad.  And happy.  Crazy?  Probably.

I know he isn't really going to leave me forever... I know to some degree he will always need his mom. And I know that God will direct his paths and watch over him when I can't.  I just look at the time I have left with him still "in my nest" and I think it isn't enough! 2 1/2 years just isn't enough.... But the days fly by, turning into weeks and months and I am left with this panic in my heart that it really is going too fast... And after him all the others will follow, one (or two) at a time.  And I just want to make the most of it, these fleeting moments that we have to love and live and laugh together.  So that they remember.  

I know I will.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Impossibly Simple

I love to read about marriage.  Blog posts, books, articles... After all, with one failed marriage already in my history, I could use the help, right?  I am currently reading Sacred Influence by Gary Thomas, along with his Devotions for a Sacred Marriage.  I also just started reading The Love Dare, and the 3 of those together make for some pretty revolutionizing reading.  I also read some blogs by godly women about being a wife and a mom, and I have come to agree with Gary Thomas' theory that God did not intend for marriage to make us happy.  He intended for marriage to make us holy...  To drive us to Himself when all of our efforts to be the perfect wife, the perfect mom, are seemingly in vain, and even that worthy pursuit leaves us empty and longing.

We women devote an enormous amount of time and energy in the pursuit of a happy family life, and of course we should! But I wonder if we are making it harder than it has to be?  This question has been turning over in my mind... What if we devoted ourselves to one purpose and one alone, and that one purpose being to conform to Christ, wouldn't the rest just fall into place?  Because who can resist Him?  If we become like Him, then who could resist us?  I've always wanted to be irresistable... but there are some qualities I possess that are unattractive indeed.  Like the need to be right.  All the time.  I mean, really, I have such a hard time admitting when I'm wrong.  And since I am wrong quite often, this causes some stress.  And the need to "feel appreciated".  I tell you, this might be the worst, because it exposes the selfishness behind even the so-called selfless things I do!

 I think what God is showing me in all of this reading I'm doing lately is that I do a lot of the right things. but with the wrong motives.  I am busy trying to win everyone's approval, busy trying to be the perfect wife (yeah, right! I can hear my husband laughing at this one) and busy trying to be Super-Duper-Mom/Stepmom and you know what? No one ever (well, rarely ever) says thank you.  And nobody really even notices half the stuff I do. So what happens?  I start feeling resentful, and at times even angry that I am not getting the approval I so desperately want.  Life for a recovering approval-addict just gets this way from time to time.  We know better.  But it is such a familiar way of perceiving things that when life gets busy it can become the default mode if we aren't careful.  So last week, when I was just really down in the dumps, God reminded me through all this reading, "Hey Kari, you really only need to be concerned with the approval of One...  Follow me, do what I do.  Love like I love, and forgive the way I forgive you."  Impossibly simple.  Impossible because I can't do those things.  Simple because He can.

Maybe this isn't revolutionary for you?  Maybe you have figured it all out already.  If so, please send me the link to your blog so that I can "follow" you! For me, it is always this winding path that keeps coming around to the same old issues and wearing the ruts deep.  It takes a few trips around the bend for me to really "get it".  This is just a short list of some things I am learning lately... Things that make my world look a little different than before.

1.  He understands.  No one was more misjudged, misunderstood, or mistreated than Jesus.  So He knows how it feels.  His motives were questioned, His credibility doubted, and even when He took the time to heal lepers He was left without even a simple "thank you" from all but one.  Very few believed the truth about Him, choosing to hold to their preconceived notions about this guy from Nazareth.

2.  He loved them anyway.  He responded to their doubt, their lies, their abuse, their slander, their insults, with love.  With a heart of forgiveness and mercy and tenderness.  He didn't retaliate or defend Himself.  He knew who He was.  Their unbelief did not change a thing about who He was.

3.  This was to be an example to me.  On a much smaller scale, for sure.  But who among us hasn't felt the sting of rejection?  The pain of being cast aside?  The heartache of being misunderstood?  The frustration of being unappreciated...  He showed us what to do.  Love them anyway.

Three simple truths.  A perfect model to pattern my life after... Impossible to live out in my own strength.  But as I am learning more and more with each day, what seems impossible to me is just an invitation for God to work and move in my life.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

E is for Exhausted

I am not even sure how to start this post, except to say Thank You God that this week is over and tomorrow is Sunday.  I could write a whole book just on the events of this week, but I don't have that kind of time tonight.  So let me just say that it has been HARD.  On every level, from every side, just plain hard.  And for once, I can't blame it on hormones.  Now, I do not want to say that there have not been any good moments, because that isn't true, but they have definitely been eclipsed by the difficult ones this week.  And no, there is nothing "big" going on.  Just the sinking feeling that I have spread myself entirely too thin, and its too late to turn back.  And every mom knows the result of being spread too thin.  Exhaustion.  I am forcing myself to be more transparent here than I am really comfortable with, but truly I have just shut down. My body, my mind, my emotions, they have just come to a grinding halt leaving me numb.  I don't want to parent, I don't want to see friends, I don't want to talk (mainly because I start crying every time) and I don't even really know why... I just feel so overwhelmed.

A sweet friend checked on me yesterday and reminded me that I have an Enemy who is seeking to steal my joy.... And I looked back over the countless, non-stop messes of this week and it was undeniably the work of someone who had calculated and planned each disaster to pierce me at my weakest, most vulnerable spots.  An Enemy who knows me well.  But I should be ready for this, right? God's word tells us to put on our armor... That there is one seeking to steal, kill and destroy... And maybe my guard is just down?   Maybe I forgot that I have a Defender, one who fights for me... At any rate, I felt defenseless.  Attacked.  Not ready.

Another dear lady reminded me of the fact that I'm not supposed to "do-it-all-myself", that in seeking to be super-woman I cheat myself of the blessing of being helped by those who love me and are willing.  And at the root of it all might be that seed of pride that I struggle with.  And ouch, that hurt, but yes, it resonates as Truth  in my spirit.

My husband, who doesn't say a whole lot, (especially not when I am having this kind of week) has listened as I have literally poured out all of the conflicting, contradicting, at times CRAZY things in my head, and has not really offered much advice (for which I am so thankful) until today.  But what he said today really cut straight to the heart... He gently reminded me of all the times I have encouraged him to choose the right even when it isn't easy, to be generous when being selfish would feel better, to turn the other cheek, to let the little things go and to give grace... Again, OUCH. But I knew he was right.  I had switched back into that old familiar self-protective mode.  Walls up, mind closed, heart locked up tight.  It is amazing to me how easy it is to fall back into this when I know better.  

I have another friend who has told me many times to "lead with my heart", because she knows my tendency to feign confidence when I am really steeped in self-doubt.  It's almost as if, the harder and more impossible things get, the more I try to prove I can do it all myself. Why do I do this? What do I have to prove? And to whom?

Is there a point to this post? I don't even know.  It is just the honest rambling of a really tired mama who has lost her way this week.  But tomorrow is a new day, a new week, another chance to start over.  I can at least leave you with some verses (compliments of Lauren Ford's study notes from bible study on Thursday) that I have been clinging to this weekend. Maybe it is just what you need too?

Philippians 4:6-7  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

Ephesians 4:32  "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

Luke 6:32-35  "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."

Lamentations 3:22-23  "Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning;  Great is Your faithfulness."

Isaiah 40:31  "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

Luke 18:27  "Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with man is possible with God.'"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Deep Breath

Sunday evening always sneaks up on me... The weekend lures me into a state of calm, which is GOOD, but every week, on Sunday night it comes to an abrupt end! Because, this is truly when the week begins, at least for moms.  Here is the scene at my house on Sunday night:  I open the fridge and see that it is nearly empty (of anything other than the 2 week old leftovers growing fuzz) so I scribble out a grocery list and head to Kroger, where I bump into other moms I know with loaded buggies and we joke about how this whole cart full of food, that is supposed to last for a week, will be gone in 3 days. And then I rush home, unload and put away the week's provision and take a deep breath.  That's when it hits me.  I haven't done a single load of laundry since (gasp) THURSDAY.  Which means most of my husband's work clothes are in the hamper, along with the twins' play clothes.  Oh yeah, and all the towels.  So, I sort the clothes and cram as many as I can into the washer and press start.  Another deep breath.  I glance at the calendar and realize this is the last week in September, which means October lesson plans should be turned in this week, so I head to the computer to work on that.

Things are moving right along, until the twins notice I am sitting down, and that will never do, so they do their very best to distract, (and they are really quite good at this, I tell ya) and I give up on that endeavor for the moment to make some mac and cheese.  That's when dear husband asks the dreaded, "What are you and I going to eat?" and I'm thinking to myself, "WE ate lunch at the Mexican buffet, and I am still full, so you should be too..." But realizing that men do not operate that way, I give my best cute-apologetic-smile and he makes himself a sandwich without complaint.   Another deep breath and a BIG sigh of relief. Love a man that doesn't mind making his own sandwich.  That is just a gift from God.

Next on the agenda is bedtime for little ones (after I clean the mac and cheese out of Gracie's hair), but they are not cooperating and this takes the better part of an hour to accomplish.  Deep breaths, counting to ten... Love is patient, love is patient, love is patient... Now back to the lesson plans.  Which leads me back to the computer, which is where I sit at present, typing this blog post. I ask myself, "Why do I do this?" You know, put off the things that are required in favor of the not-so-necessary... And I don't know the answer. But it helps to laugh at myself a little, and I am a little less tense than when I sat down.  So maybe it is still productive? It is a deep breath of sorts, collecting my thoughts like this.

Ready now for the rest of the "have-to-do's", I am heading to the kitchen to clean up a little, then to transfer wet clothes to the dryer, and then straight up to bed.  I am usually singing something in my head, and no, it isn't always inspirational. Tonight's soundtrack is Bryan Adams... "Ain't no use in complaining, when you got a job to do...." (I don't know where this stuff comes from.)  Am I the only one who thinks that Monday really starts on Sunday evening?  I think there should be a calendar that reflects this phenomenon. So that I am not surprised and blind-sided by it every single week. So with one more deep breath, it is back to work for me.  Praying we all have a blessed and joy-filled Monday.  Starting now!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good in the Mess

I write when I have something to write, which is usually in response to something I have read.  With almost no time to read at all, I have had a "writer's block" of sorts, and since anything I come up with on my own is bound to be utter nonsense, I have not really attempted a blog post in a while.  At least none that I am willing to share!  So tonight, I am soaking up some verses on doing good, because as I wash the dishes and fold more laundry and wipe some unknown stickiness off of bathroom walls the words pounding in my head are these: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9)  And it isn't the dishes, or the dirty clothes or the sticky messes that make me weary, but the messes that I can't clean... The messes running through my mind that soapy water won't wash away.  The ones I want to fix but have no control over.  You know.  "Those" messes.

So I close my eyes and silently ask, "What is the good? What am I not supposed to grow weary of? What am I supposed to do when my hands are tied and I feel helpless?" And the answer falls gently and swiftly on my heart, "He has shown you, oh mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  So simple. And so hard.  It is an answer, the answer, but I go to bed still feeling undone about it all.  I pull a book off the shelf and read just a little to help me fall asleep, and am startled when I read these words:

"If I am to rid myself of anything that may contaminate body or spirit, then I can give no place in my life to jealousy, bitterness, resentment, or selfishness.  I am always called to practice gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.  Someone else's sin never gives me the license to respond with sin...  Every decision I make, every word I utter, every thought I think, every movement I perform, is to flow out of one holy motivation: reverence for God." (Gary Thomas, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage)

I suppose God in His infinite mercy knew I needed a little clarification.... A little further explanation of the "too simple" answer He whispered at first.  Act justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly.  No jealousy, bitterness, resentment, selfishness...  Always kind, good, faithful, self-controlled.  This is the filter through which to view my own thoughts, words, and actions. Are they contaminating and polluting the relationships in my life? Or are they a reflection of His goodness?  It is HIS goodness.  That is what I am not to grow weary of... Reflecting HIS goodness.  Not trying to manufacture some of my own. Wouldn't that really be just a pile of dirty rags in comparison, anyway?  And I feel the pressure lift... because I know this Goodness firsthand.  How it weaves its way through the mess and brings dark to light and dead to life.  And I can rest in this:  it isn't up to me. I need only be a willing and broken vessel for it to shine through.

"Whoever wants to embrace life
      and see the day fill up with good,
   Here's what you do:
      Say nothing evil or hurtful;
   Snub evil and cultivate good;
      run after peace for all you're worth.
   God looks on all this with approval,
      listening and responding well to what he's asked;
   But he turns his back
      on those who do evil things."

                                                 ~1Peter 3:10-12

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Really Matters

Having trouble sleeping tonight… Thinking about yesterday, tomorrow, and Friday, and the effect these days have had and will have on my ever-changing life, and the lives of those I love most.  Perspective shifting sharply into focus as it tends to do when we face the loss of one we love, making me painfully aware of how casually I get up each day and assume all will be well and life will not be interrupted by death.  I was lying in bed, praying for my Aunt Pat, my mom and her remaining brother and sisters, and hurting for the sadness they all are feeling tonight.  I listened to my husband's even breathing, laid my hand on his chest to feel it rise and fall, and thought to myself that it all seems so unfair, that there is a wife wondering how on earth she will ever learn to sleep alone, live alone, eat alone… It is too much to ask, isn't it? That we be willing to give back to God the one He put beside us? That imperfect, flawed and fallen man that we came to see as the perfect person to fight with, to sleep next to, to lean on and to hold up sometimes…I just can't really wrap my mind around it tonight.  What it must feel like to be not asked, but forced to let go of that hand…

One of my aunts said yesterday that thing we all think when faced with our mortality, "Live each day like it is your last." And I've heard it said, sung, preached, and taught many times before, but this time I really pondered that statement.  For me, what would that look like?  How would I want to spend my very last day? I feel certain it would not include sky-diving or any other extreme sport. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think I would just want to spend it with the people I love.  I would want to mend some bridges I've burned, I would want to hug some necks I haven't hugged in a while, and I would want to make sure and kiss all my babies a whole lot, and hold my husband's hand.  I think I would want to say a lot, because I always have a lot to say… But I would be more careful and intentional about the words I speak.  No time for subtlety or sugar-coating.  Just the truth, in love, with boldness.  (I have a friend that can do this. She can cut to the chase, be as blunt and efficient as can be, and still manage to make me feel loved.  This is a rare gift, indeed. But, I digress…)

All of that, I guess, is just a way of being ready to say goodbye, right?  To make sure those you love KNOW they are loved, to forgive, to ask forgiveness… To give real hugs (I am not good at this) and to kiss more cheeks.  I think what I'm saying is I realize maybe I have been too reserved? Held back a little too much? Waited to see if I perceived love and acceptance before extending it?  I'm always so afraid of coming on too strong that I stand back and don't give myself fully to those I love.  I give them a small part of me, the part I think they will approve of, instead of saying ”To heck with that, I love you, and like it or not I'm gonna act like it!"  I have regretted many words that have come out of my mouth (or fingertips) in my lifetime, but I don't want to come to the end of it and regret NOT having said words that heal hearts and mend bridges because I was afraid of rejection.

Life is relationships. And relationships are hard.  And giving ourselves fully to flawed and imperfect people is scary, indeed.  But what good is self-protection in the end?  Sure, it might protect us from the pain of disappointment and rejection, but it will inevitably bring the heartache of loneliness.  And choosing not to love might protect us from the pain of loss, but will rob us of the true joy in living.  And choosing not to forgive might momentarily soothe our pride, but in the end, isn't our own pride always the most vicious enemy of our soul?

I read this tonight and it brought fresh tears, "The good news: not that the good are rescued, (because what news would that be?), but the bad, the very bad, are loved, bought, redeemed. This is the thing: The only thing that fixes what’s broken is forgiveness."  (Ann Voskamp, www.aholyexperience.com) And I wonder if my uncle had time? Time enough to mend the bridges and extend forgiveness, to say all the words he wanted to say? And I know he loved well, he was one of the warmest people in my life, but don't we all run out of time eventually? We know Christ forgives…. And we are rescued… Can we also rescue each other by forgiving?  I want to live my life with this kind of mind, this kind of heart… That sees only the beauty of the cross in those difficult relationships, the opportunity to give and to receive Grace.  And then I read "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47) Oh how I want to love BIG.  And I have truly been forgiven MUCH.  So it is this I want to nail down tonight…. That I will forgive and love in the same measure I have been forgiven and loved, or as close to it as possible for my poor mess of a human heart.

These late night ramblings often make me wake up in a panic over being a little too vulnerable, a little too real… I'm sure I'll feel that way tomorrow too. But maybe now I can go to sleep with a little more clarity, a little better grasp of what matters.  Love. Forgiveness.  It all comes down to these.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Being an Intentional Woman

Guess it has been a while... This time of year is always hectic, but this year has been particularly busy, and many of my own pursuits have been pushed to the side for the moment.  (Unfortunately that has included things like housework, time with my husband, time with God, reading uplifting books and blogs..) But we are thankfully settling back into the familiar routine of school, band/football/baseball practices, and church stuff. The summer days have flown by at an alarming rate, and I have felt a little off balance lately.  So this morning in my quiet house, I am taking a look at my life, heart, and relationships, trying to figure out where I am and where I need to be.  I don't like the feeling of wandering aimlessly through these busy days.

Our Tuesday morning ministry at church has a new name.  It is now called "iWoman" which stands for "Intentional Woman".  This is what I want to be.  Intentional.  About my faith, my relationships, (particularly with my husband and kids), my time, and even how I spend these few minutes that God gives me to write... After all, how can a life have purpose if it isn't lived intentionally?  So that's what I'm doing this morning... asking God to give me more than just direction, to show me His purpose for me in this season, so that I can be intentional about serving Him in my home, in my church, in my new job teaching preschool, in my writing, in my relationships.  I think it is time to stop focusing so much on what I'm not good at, and start focusing on becoming the woman He created me to be. I think I have been so discouraged by where I'm NOT that I have been standing still, afraid to move forward.   So, in this season of beginnings, I want to start fresh, stop dwelling on what I lack, and walk forward with the confidence that God will bring to completion what he started in me. 

The verse I am memorizing today is Galatians 5:25, "Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives."

*If you find yourself in the same place I've been, wanting to move forward with God but not sure where to begin, consider this your invitation to join us for iWoman on Tuesdays at Willowbrook this fall, starting in September.  We'll meet from 9-11am in the Youth Outbuilding.  Visitors welcome, childcare free with reservation.  Go to www.winningwomentochrist.org and click the link for iWoman for schedule and contact info.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Search for Simple

No one in their right mind would ever look at my life from the outside and call it "simple".  A blended family, complete with all the difficult and intricate relationships that come with it, and the crazy schedules of who's staying where and for how long, can make life seem pretty complicated.  Throw in some football practices, band rehearsals, and a new job teaching preschool 3 days a week, and it starts to look downright unmanageable!  I've never been good at "doing-it-all".  I'm not a great multi-tasker, don't work well under pressure, and really have an aversion to structure and rigid routines.  My mom would say that is what makes me fun, but honestly these days I'd say it's what makes me nuts!  Navigating these wild days is a learning experience to say the least.

I find myself growing weary, feeling overwhelmed, and battling impatience... Not just with the kids, but with myself! Thinking always that I should be able to handle it all with more grace, that I should be able to cheerfully serve the ones I love without this edge.  That it is too much because I am not enough.  Not strong enough, not organized enough, not disciplined enough... You get the picture.  I have written about this very thing before, and probably will again, because it is my battleground for now.  God is teaching me so much in this, but the lessons are hard, and I'm not always the best student!  My heart's desire is to give my best to my husband and children,  to fill our home with love and grace and peace, and allowing God to smooth out my rough edges is the only way, painful though it may be.

Keeping things simple is a challenge for every mom, regardless of family type.  And just like every other area of life that I desire change, the change must always begin with me.  And God is faithfully revealing areas of my heart and life that need to be simplified.  I wish I could say that I welcome the change, but I always resist.  So comfortable in my chaos that I say, "I'm fine. My way is fine. I'm fine with my crazy circus life."  But I'm not! I am SO not fine.  (Ask my husband! He might be the most long-suffering man alive.  And I am so very thankful for his patience with me.)  The first step to simple:  Coming to the end of myself, and "my way", and consequently, to the end of my proverbial rope! This is the only place that God works.  At the end of ME.

The second step to simple is a big one.  It sounds easy, but has truly been one of the hardest things for me to do.  Step two is to Slow Down.  When I hurry, I fuel the impatient nature of my heart.  One of my favorite quotes is from Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts.  She says, "Life is not an emergency. Life is brief and it is fleeting but it is not an emergency."  I repeat this to myself many times a day, when the heart races, and the clock even faster.  To slow down, to be present in this very moment, not racing ahead to the next thing, is the key to calm.  And calm is simple. And this is what I want.  Sometimes I have to say it out loud, "Slow down. Hurry hurts." (Or sometimes sing to myself, "I can go slow, I can go slow" like on the kids' cd we listen to at preschool, though I don't recommend doing this in public unless you are ok with some strange glances...)

And step three is as far as I've gotten on this path to Simple.  It is my favorite, because it has the power to take any moment and transform it immediately.  Step three: to Give Thanks. Hudson, my two year old, is a constant reminder to me to be thankful.  He walks around singing "God our Father, God our Father, we give thanks, we give thanks" all the time.  And this is not the generic "thank you for all my blessings" kind of thanks.  I mean moment by moment, actively looking for gifts to be thankful for, even in the midst of the mess kind of thanks.  Another favorite quote from 1000 Gifts, "Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks--taking the just one loaf, say it is enough, and give thanks--and He miraculously makes it more than enough."  Being thankful for what He gives each moment is the key to having enough, to being enough.  And isn't that what my heart desires? To have enough?  To be enough?  Isn't all of life simpler when we feel we have adequate resources to fulfill our God-given roles?  Thanksgiving keeps life simple and free from striving for more.

In a season of chaos, the search for simple requires some effort... But it is there waiting to be found.  And even this tired mommy can remember 3 things... Come to the end of Me, Slow Down, and Give Thanks. Simplicity isn't the impossible dream.  It isn't some idyllic moment in the past that you wish you could go back to.  It isn't some future reality where all your problems are solved. It is here and now.  We just have to choose it.  It is always a choice isn't it? How we respond to life and what it throws at us... Praying for the Grace to search for and choose the simple, even in the midst of the chaos.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Thing

Dishes in my sink, laundry practically everywhere, a trail of train tracks, dinosaurs, and wood blocks all through the house, and here I sit.  Not even sure why, really... Sometimes I have words already in my mind waiting to get out, but not tonight.  The quote keeps coming to mind today, "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman." (Tammy Wynette, I believe?)  And it almost rings true, except for the "sometimes" part!  May be a truer thing to say that every once in a while you have a day that doesn't require the impossible, a day that doesn't drain you dry of all beauty and grace, a day when you go to bed feeling that you accomplished something of lasting value... But in my experience as a mom and a wife, those days are precious and few.  Mostly we just get up with the sun and sometimes we stomp through the day with determination, sometimes we drag our feet in reluctant surrender.  But always, always the exhaustion at the end.

A depressing way to begin a post, I know! This is just me, trying to climb out of the pit tonight.  Felt this way yesterday too, and pulled out my journal and pen, re-read some of Ann Voskamp's "1000 Gifts", because I knew at the root of the hopelessness was a lack of gratitude.... Truly it was worse than that, it was ingratitude, plain and simple.  A refusal to reflect on His gifts, His grace, His provision for the day, ALL this goodness.  What do we do when we are so soul-tired that we become blind to it?

I grew up in church, I know the "rules", the "answers", the check-marks for a life of faith.  Pray more, pray better, memorize more, read more, give more... Always more.  When we are weary and worn, "more" seems more like "too much", doesn't it?  I am in the process of UN-learning all those "rules" and "answers"... But I need something to replace them with.  Something that doesn't depend on my own ability, spirituality, intellect or insight.  Something so simple it almost seems ridiculous.  Get ready to be blown away, here... One Thing.  I can name one thing that I am thankful for.  Some days, like today, I have to really think because my mind is spiraling down, and that is not really conducive to feeling thanks, BUT the hunt for that one thing is the very thing that stops the downward spiral and turns me around, and the one thing leads to remembering the many things, and up, up, up I go.  Genius, right? Well, it isn't exactly a new idea...

Remember the old hymn that we sang (nearly every Sunday of my young life it seems), "Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings see what God has done"?  I think I have missed the true meaning of those lyrics my whole life.  Hearing in them just another "rule" to follow instead of the simple truth  they tell.... "Name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!"  Yes.  It will surprise you.  When you name the one thing, you start to remember the many things.  And you are surprised.  Surprised that you didn't see it before, surprised that even when you weren't aware God was still pouring blessing into your life, and maybe a little ashamed that you didn't take time to notice right away.  But always this, with surprise comes JOY.  I needed a little joy tonight, how about you?

Some links to places I go for encouragement everyday:


Monday, July 11, 2011

Learning to Respond

"Are you a reactor or a responder?" I read this question on Facebook a few days ago.  I knew immediately what the honest answer was for me... a recovering reactor trying hard to become a responder...I have so far to go.  This battle is one that I fight all day everyday.  In a home filled with kids and messes and arguments and chores, my patience is not always "on point".  In fact, some days it seems I lack this esteemed virtue altogether.  I don't really want to pray for patience, because I know how God works it into our lives and frankly, I just don't feel up to the challenge! So my prayer sounds more like this, "God, you know I need help in this area.  I know I need your help in this area.  Please help me, but please be gentle?" And He is faithful.  He has (thus far) been gentle.  Reminding me in the tense moment to just breathe, keeping me aware of the effects of my reactions, teaching me the benefits of a Godly response, flooding my life with encouraging friends, and reminding me that there is always grace to try again when I miss the mark.

When the 2 year old is whining, I'm practicing a calm and pleasant (but authoritative) response, instead of whining back at her to "stop that whining!".  When the kool-aid spills all over the table and on the stacks of mail (that I should have put away 3 days ago), I am learning to just hand the embarassed child a towel and say "no big deal, I spill stuff sometimes too." When I read or hear something that makes my old defensive nature kick into high gear, I am working on immediately giving it to God, who is my Defender.  When dear husband is a little tense and speaks in a tone of voice that is harsh, I'm trying hard to take my focus off my own feelings and get to the heart of what's bugging him so I can be his helper.  And when I hear the big kids yelling and fighting (this is a hard one) I am not going to march into the fight with fists clenched screaming at them to "Stop the yelling!!!".

See, the problem with being a reactor is this... a reactor doesn't usually bring positive change to a negative situation.  Instead, a reactor just reacts to the anxiety or stress of the moment and becomes part of the problem.  As a wife and mom, I don't want to be part of the problem! I want to be part of the solution!  I want to model grace and patience and gentleness so that these little (and not-so-little) ones can learn how to live it out themselves. A "response" requires intentionality... To respond is to form an answer or reply, and to form something we must put some thought into it.  And if we are going to take time to put some thought into it, why not put some prayer into it as well?

This is the verse I am memorizing to help me slow down and respond instead of react...

Proverbs 15:1 "A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongues kindles a temper-fire."

I don't know about you, but in this house I don't need to kindle any temper-fires! They seem to be burning just fine without my help!  And according to this verse, with God's help I can learn to put them out.  Un-learning my reactive ways will take time and effort, no doubt.  But if the reward is a more peaceful and grace-filled home, then I am willing!

A great article on the subject! http://lysaterkeurst.com/2011/07/reactor-or-responder/

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fearless Friday

I started the week with a "Messy Monday".  I am determined to end it on a better note.  My life isn't exactly in a season of peace.  I wake up every morning to a new giant, feeling very ill equipped with a spatula in my hand instead of a sling-shot and a stone.  (Like maybe if I threaten to spank the giant he'll run away? Yeah, that doesn't even work on my 2 yr olds.)  And I have this little faith in this BIG God who I so want to trust but am afraid He just might not be for me... Like he might be on the giant's side...  So I tremble.  And I scramble to figure out what my plan should be for the battle, and I feel alone as I prepare for the worst.   

What amazes me is this... When I am trembling, not trusting, not resting, not believing, He whispers soft, "I am with you.  I won't leave you.  I am for you.  You are mine.  You don't have to be afraid."  And I don't always listen.  So He shouts "Be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them. I will go with you! I will never leave or forsake you."  Oh how I want to believe it.  I have such a hard time believing that anyone, much less a holy God, would want to be "for me".  I have always had this deep belief that I am hard to love, hard to be close to, and it affects every relationship, even with my Savior. My default mode is self-protection.  At its worst, this looks like paranoia, anxiety, doubt, and yes, overwhelming fear. 

How do you overcome fear? I've certainly faced some giants before. And God has surely carried me safely through battles in the past.  And I've grown and been stronger and had more faith as a result, that is UNTIL the next giant steps out of the shadows and I forget.  So maybe the key is to learn to REMEMBER.  If my mind is fixed on what God has brought me through, what He has done in my cold-hard heart to make it soft and tender again, then would the giant maybe shrink a little? And if I can fix my thoughts on His words, His promises, would that giant look even smaller?  And what if I sang out loud in praise of Who He Is, would my fear turn to anticipation of what God can do on behalf of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose?  I think I'll try it and see.  In fact, just in writing these words my heart has settled a bit.  God uses this plastic keyboard to open me up and call me out of myself.  The rest of you probably think I'm nuts, and it's probably not far from the truth.  But I don't mind being a fool for One who comes to my rescue when all seems lost.  

What is there, really, to be afraid of?  Simply put, it is a CHOICE to be afraid... Because God's word tells us over and over again that we don't have to be.  I think sometimes we are afraid because we think we should be, like maybe the fear and worry will serve to protect us somehow, and my friends, that is a lie!  This is a day for filling our minds with TRUTH.  I'm choosing today to trust.  And to cast my anxiety on Him because He cares for me.  If I have to face giants, (and we all do), I want to be ready and confident in the One who fights for me.  It seems so silly to think I could come up with a successful strategy of my own apart from Him.  Hmmm... seems like I've tried that before with not-so-stellar results.... I think I'll step down and let Him fight this one for me. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Messy Monday

Mondays can really be tough.  Today has been no exception.  Sundays are wild for us, with Sunday School lessons to teach, all these children to have bathed and presentable for church, hurried meals, hot afternoons at the ball park and then back to church again... All things we love to do, and we fly through the day and fall into bed exhausted, leaving dishes and laundry and messes for Monday.  I woke up bright and early this morning determined to accomplish just one thing before I left to teach a class of 2 and 3 year olds at day camp.  So I made the coffee, checked my email and somehow got glued to the computer long enough that I did not have time to do the ONE THING I meant to do...

I got to "school" (as the twins refer to day camp) to find that my precious class full of little ones had all apparently had the same kind of Sunday as me! They were tired, cranky, whiny, and frankly, so was I!  And so began quite possibly the longest 3 hours of my life.  My patience was thin as ice, my countenance could not possibly have been pleasant, though I was trying my best to appear cheerful.  We all survived, with some tears and a few time-outs. (Wouldn't it be nice if we could put ourselves in time-out once in a while?)

Back at home, I fed my little ones and laid them down for a nap, and laid down on the couch to "rest my eyes" just a bit.  Dear husband calls and asks me to look at his email for him, and I get glued to the computer again. This time, scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed.  And of course, it happens.  I see something that makes my heart start pounding, my blood pressure rise, and I feel the toxic defensive words forming in my mind and racing to my fingers to be typed in response to a "dig" at someone I care about.  And I would be justified, right??  Shouldn't we defend the ones we love?

So I argue with myself a bit, and decide to wait, to let it roll off my shoulders, so to speak... to choose grace and be silent. And the very next thing I read reminds me to dwell on "these things"... "whatever is true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling and gracious, the best, not the worst, the beautiful, not the ugly, things to praise not things to curse." (Philippians 4:8-9)  And then I remembered the thing I forgot to do this morning... I forgot to dwell on "these things" first. Before the morning rush, before the cranky little people, before the tired afternoon slump, before the reading of what ugliness others are "dwelling on"... I can't believe how easily I forget to do the most important thing. And what a profound impact that one thing has on my day, and those who are part of my life.

People are messy.  Life is messy.   And not one of us gets it right all the time.  God whispers to me constantly, "Give grace, Kari... Give grace..." And I want to.  I have certainly been given grace, and received it joyfully.  Why do I just want to hold on to it, all stingy and proud, like I had anything at all to do with it?  The rest of that passage in Philippians has a promise.  "Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into His most excellent harmonies."  

Harmony.  Isn't that my desire?  Learning with each day that it takes discipline, and choosing to fill my head with Truth, and choosing patience.  I read once that "Love always begins with patience." And if I have so little patience, am I really loving anyone well?  The hope here is this:  I am growing in the failures... I am learning to see with new eyes... I am changing.  Slow and steady.  And I am thankful.

Hoping and praying that I am less forgetful, more patient, more loving and more "me" on Tuesday! Prayers for your tomorrows too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Looking for Miracles

What is a miracle?  Webster's defines it as "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs."  I pray for miracles all the time.... When the mortgage isn't paid and the bank account is dry and when cancer eats away at those we love, but I ask with this doubt that says "I know He can, but I don't believe He will."  So my prayers are weak, ineffective, really just bouncing off the ceiling because of my unbelief.  It occurred to me yesterday, while wringing my hands and begging for some divine intervention that I had it backward... That God is ALWAYS working miracles in my life.    That my prayer should simply be "Open my eyes to what You are already doing."  Because truthfully, we rarely get the answers we seek when we seek rescue, or an easy way out, or relief from suffering... And this has always frustrated me, that life seems to always win out over faith.  But with a different perspective, could I begin to see the miracles all around me?  And in seeing those miracles that aren't the kind that make us wealthy or well or even comfortable, could I begin to cultivate thankfulness for even the hard things?  And wouldn't that be a miracle in itself?  Interesting thought...

I grew weary yesterday of wringing my hands in worry, so in order to fill the air (and my head) with something other than fear, I began singing to myself... "Blessed be the Name of the Lord, Blessed be the Name... You give and take away, you give and take away.."  What happened next was astonishing... I began to smile, then trying to remember the verses, I fumbled through the rest of the song with some wrong lyrics and some humming, and I realized, It's true!! Worship is the way out.  The way out of fear, the way out of worry, the way out of ME...   I have probably been told this, heard sermons on this, and frankly, I've always been one to  sing only with a full heart, not start with an empty heart to fill... Again, I just had it backward.  

I'd love to tell you that miraculously, my circumstances changed,  but you won't be surprised when I say that the only change was in me....For the moment though, it was enough.  I eventually stopped singing, and the worry and fear rushed back in, and I cried a little and got through the rest of the day and went to bed not really thinking of anything at all.  I woke up remembering, though, and seeing the miracle that I almost missed... And then taking a mental inventory of the miracles happening that don't really feel much like miracles at all... And so today, I am trying to remember to not ask for the scenery to change, but for new eyes, and while I wait for that sight I will sing... "I lift my hands to believe again, You are my refuge, You are my strength, As I pour out my heart, these things I remember, You are faithful God, forever...."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Silent Treatment

I use a lot of words.  I like words, how there are so many ways to say something and give it just the right effect or connotation...  I blog because the words leaving my head are like therapy to me, a way to "get it out" so I can let go.  I wish I could say that my words are always "seasoned with grace", but it would be far from the truth.  I want them to be.  But often what comes out is the frustration, impatience, the steam that has built up over all the "little messes" a day holds.  This week has been filled with opportunities to give grace to others, by speaking in love or by just not speaking at all...  I have failed almost every single time.  And every time, I have hung my head, asked God to forgive, and asked for another chance or two to get it right?  A dangerous prayer to pray, friends! But I WANT this change, this transformation, and how else but to practice? So this post of carefully selected words is just a girl digging her trench for the battle, trusting God to finish what He started in my heart, this path to a grace-full life.

What God has prescribed for me, to cure this mouth, these hands, of these toxic words, is a Silent Treatment of sorts...  Now, ask my husband and he will laugh, telling you I am not capable of being silent.  I realize a lot of women use the "silent treatment" when angry, but not this girl.  I talk, and text, and talk, and text some more until I am satisfied my point has gotten across.  Then I think about all the words I wish I'd said, and look for opportunities to say them! (I am not advocating this approach, as it has a way of making a bad situation worse.)  The book of Proverbs is filled with instruction on how to use our words wisely, and the dangers of reckless words.  What is a reckless word? Any word I say that isn't flowing from a heart of grace and compassion, any word I say that is merely an emotional reaction, any word I say that I haven't carefully chosen in order to reflect Jesus and His love.  I have spoken (and texted) many reckless words this week, and in the moment, felt justified in speaking them.  Today, in hindsight, I am filled with regret and shame that I could be so self-righteous, so superior, so arrogant... But the words are out there, and I can't get them back.  So what is a girl to do? I think I will follow God's instruction and learn when to speak up and when to shut up!

Here is my plan... It might prove to be the single hardest thing I have ever done... I am going to be quiet.  I am   going to make a concentrated effort to identify the anxiety, frustration, and impatience that often lead to my recklessly spoken words.  And when I am feeling those things, I am (with God's help) going to be silent! I will leave the room or situation if necessary, pray for grace, and just not say anything.  Honestly, I can't remember a time when I have said anything of any value when my anxiety level was high.  So the obvious solution is to just not talk. Or text.  Or email.  (Might still blog, just not publish? You know, to get it out...)

So many times this week, I spoke (or texted), then immediately realized I had just blown it. Royally.  Again.  And wished I could rewind and get a do-over.  But it takes more than wishing, doesn't it? It would be nice if we could just wish to be Christlike and that was enough.  Or just pretend that we are until we really are.  But I would rather live authentically, be honest about the fact that I am a work in progress, because, if we are honest, aren't we all muddling and struggling and learning this straight and narrow?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, so this week I think I'll keep what's left of my sanity and try something new! I have practiced a little today, and found that it takes great concentration to keep my mouth shut.  And I even looked up several key verses on word-wisdom to memorize.  Hopefully that will keep my mind too busy to replay conversations, imagining all the things I could have said to cut someone down to size or get the last word. And above all, I am praying that God will fill me with His grace and true compassion, and that I won't be so easily distracted by the messiness of life and forget who and Whose I am.  Of what value is proving a point or being "right" if I have made someone feel unloved, unaccepted or devalued? Makes my heart hurt to think I have been guilty of those things, because I have certainly been on the receiving end enough to know how it feels.  It hurts to feel like LESS.  But when my words cut down, I am making someone feel like LESS.  Aren't we called to build one another up? Is that just a guideline for our easy relationships? I am beginning to see that it is all the more important to build up those that are the HARDEST to show grace to, because the hard relationships are the ones that teach us how to make less of ourselves, how to walk humbly and justly, with compassion and mercy. Like Jesus.  He showed us how. With the woman at the well. With you and with me.

Following His lead this week... Speaking only grace-words (because I can do EVERYTHING through Him who gives me strength).  Wonder if you care to join me?

Proverbs 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 10:19  When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Proverbs 16:24  Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and nourishing to the bones.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Easy Rhythm

There is an easy rhythm to a life of Grace.  And the best part about Grace is that it is a total GIFT, not something to strive and work for.  I have learned, though, that walking in it consistently requires one thing. Surrender.  I write about this a lot, I guess, because it is what God is working into my heart and mind these days.  He invites me with every sunrise to just open my hands and let go.  Let go of my worry and anxiety, let go of my need to control, let go of my expectations of others, let go of my plans for the day and let Him take all of those burdens off my shoulders and just be free to live and move and breathe.  The days that I make the choice to receive this daily gift of Grace and walk in it are glorious, easy days, no matter the circumstances I face.  The days I refuse to open my clenched fists and let go are marked with stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.  Seems like the choice would be easy, right? Not for this stubborn girl.  There are so many days when I choose to believe that striving and worrying will accomplish more than resting and praying.  Probably because I am new to this kind of faith. This real, every minute of every day faith that you don't cling to only in the storms but in the everyday messes and realities and struggles that are common to every mom.... I wanted to share how I am "practicing" the art of Grace, because I suspect I am not travelling alone on this journey.

Taking my thoughts captive. This is especially difficult for women, because our emotions are so very powerful, and tend to rule our thinking.  I am learning to just STOP. When I begin to feel that heart-racing anxiety, or the heat of anger, or the rush of frustration, I (try to) make a conscious choice to reign all of that in, remind myself of Who is in control, and of my own responsibility to show Grace in the same measure that I have received it (which, by the way, is enormous, so I should be spilling out massive amounts of Grace on everyone!)  And when I choose Grace in those moments they instantly turn into opportunities for growth, for teaching, for encouragement!  It works. Every time.  It just takes practice!

Choosing Calm.  I have lots of reasons to worry.  We all do.  None of us are exempt from the harshness of life, the consequences of choices made, the challenges of relationships.  But for so many years, I allowed these things to dictate my state of mind, my outlook, my choices, even my personality.  I did not possess that calmness of Spirit, that Peace, that I saw in some women and longed to have.  What a shame it took so long for me to realize that the way to Peace is easy.  It is as simple as a whispered prayer.  Praying is no longer something I try to remember to do each day.  Somehow, it has become a natural flow of conversation in my days, not a scheduled obligation.  I don't know exactly how that happened, but it is a lifeline for me in this mess of a life!  And the funny thing is, it is so much easier than lugging that load of worry around.  Why do we assign such value to worry?  Like somehow it is a gauge of how much we love someone, or a measure of how important something is to us... Worry is NOT an indicator of anything except my own lack of trust.  (Ok, stepping off the soapbox now.)

Embracing second chances.  Often it seems that I get it wrong more than I get it right, but this is the great beauty of daily Grace.  It is not about getting it right all the time.  It is learning to see our failures as opportunities to try again, wiser than we were before, and with a new perspective.  Again, this requires surrender! Saying, "Ok, I blew it, but I can start over. I can admit I was wrong, I can ask for help, and I can try again!"  I am so thankful for all the second chances I've been given.  They are gifts from a God of second chances!  And with that perspective it is possible to be grateful even for the times I blow it.

Cultivating Thankfulness.  When I take time to be aware of the countless gifts, big and small, that God lavishes  on me every single day,  I cannot help but feel loved and cherished and cared for.  And being aware of all that Grace surrounding me, I can't help but share grace with others.  Ann Voskamp's book, 1000 Gifts,  truly changed my life in this area of gratitude.  And since reading that book I have noticed how many times thanksgiving and thankfulness are mentioned in my Bible reading.  Everything comes down to this.  Recognizing who we are, Who God  Is, and what He has done for us.  Not just in saving us, but in loving us so well each and every day.

These are the things on my heart and mind today, as I prepare for a week of crazy schedules and busy days.  Not things that I have mastered or can even claim to walk in consistently, just the things of this everyday faith that I want to remember and eventually grow into.   Prayers for my sisters on this same journey, that we will recognize the choices we have every morning, and that we will choose Grace! And when we blow it at breakfast, we will choose to receive Grace and start again! And at 5 o'clock when the toddlers are crying and clinging and the supper isn't ready and the house that was just clean 2 hours ago is a wreck we will stop, take time to be thankful for all the mess and choose Grace again. And in the late hours when we lie in bed we will think not about our overwhelming schedule for tomorrow, but we will reflect on the Grace of today and say Thank You.   That's what I'm praying.  For me and for you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

For Just Today

A million times a day, it seems, I get it wrong.  My best intentions get trampled by my fickle feelings and I fail. I am the one sitting at the table with the sour expression on my face.  I am the one snapping at a child for spilling milk. I am the one speaking harsh words to the precious man who works so hard to provide for us.  I am the one who doesn't make the phone call or send the card because I am just too busy.  I am the one complaining in my spirit about the endless chores and responsibilities of being mom and step-mom to seven.  If I can't get it right at least some of the time, then how in the world am I supposed to create a loving, grace-filled, peaceful home?  These are the daily battles I face, the struggles that I can't seem to overcome. I think I half-expected Jesus to show up with a magic wand and just zap my attitude into submission.  He hasn't done that, but He continues to give me daily opportunities to practice. (I, for one, think the magic wand is a great idea, how about you?)

I am not the woman I want to be, for sure.  But I am not the woman I once was, so I know that God is working and changing me, conforming me to His image a little at the time.  So I am not without hope for the future, but sometimes finding hope for just today is hard.  Truth is, most days I simply give up too soon.  I grow weary of constantly having to begin again, having to ask forgiveness for countless lapses in the area of selfishness and pride.  Always fighting the urge to throw in the towel.  Because of the mommy-weariness, the wife-frustrations, the money-anxiousness, because of the sin-sickness of my heart that seems to drown out all the effort I put forth.

This is the scary part of faith.  Choosing to put your whole self out there, body, mind, heart and soul, every day, and leave it out there to be challenged by the storms and trials, the hurts, the fears, the failures...  Choosing not to build those walls of protection that keep your heart safe but leave it cold and alone, sacrificing your pride to show grace and love well.  Surrender. In the little things, not just the big things.  Surrendering my attitude and my tongue countless times a day, these two monsters that seem to ruin all my efforts to be the wife, mom, step-mom, and friend that I should be.

To whatever You have planned for my day, to whatever You bring my way, I surrender.  I will trust You. I will rest in the fact that You love me, that you are Good.  I will choose to believe that You alone have what I need for just today.  Tomorrow will worry about itself.  Today I will put myself out there, even if I am shaking in my shoes a little bit.  I will trust You with my heart, and I will not build those walls.  I will open my heart to You, so You can love others through me.  And when I mess up, (which inevitably will happen) I will ask forgiveness and start over.

For just today, I am going to rely on Grace.  And hopefully tomorrow I won't forget.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What Now?

Sitting here this morning, drinking cold, fresh water, with an air purifier cleaning my air and a washing machine humming along, I cannot help but feel guilt mixed with relief that it isn't me out there staring at a pile of sticks that was once my home, sifting through debris for any salvageable part of a life that has been blown away.  I am almost ashamed to be sitting here at all, with so many out there working to help others recover, but the little ones need their mommy here, and prayer is my work for the moment.  I am busy making lists of things we can donate, wishing my bank account held enough to make a difference, but knowing God always takes the gift and makes it enough.  All of us have felt, to some degree, the gravity of this disaster, and my heart swells to see the work being done and the sacrifices being made to help others rebuild and recoup.

I find myself asking, "What now? What is it that I should learn from this and how should this event change me, my perspective, my habits?"  Because when life is interrupted, in any way at all, doesn't God shout to us in these times? Doesn't He say, "Wake up! Listen! Look around! See My hand at work, see My people moved to love and serve, see My provision when all is lost, see My Grace in the midst of the suffering!" And how foolish would we be to SEE and then go back to life as usual? Chalk it up to a temporary inconvenience and move on with our busy schedules and priorities... Isn't that what we tend to do? We don't like change. We like comfort.  So we cling to Him in the middle of the crisis, and as soon as our comforts are restored, we forget.  So what should we remember? A month from now? A year from now? I don't know about you, but I have a list (of course, always a list with me) of things I don't want to forget.

1.  God is big. He is in control, and really, there is NOTHING that we control.  Our very lives are in His hands at every moment, awake or asleep, and every provision comes from Him, whether we take the time to be grateful for it or not. So I want to be THANKFUL in all things. Hold my hands open to accept ALL that He gives. The things that I see as good, the things I don't understand, the things that hurt, ALL of it, with a grateful heart and a childlike trust.

2.  God is good.  Life is unfair and harsh, nature is relentless at times, unspeakable tragedy happens all around us, but He is GOOD and He loves us and is bringing ALL things together for His purposes and in the end, we will see with Heaven's perspective and understand, but for now we REST and know that He loves us.

3.  God doesn't hurry or get stressed out, so if my life and purpose are in Him, neither should I.  If I am following Him, there is no need to worry about what I might run into, right? If He is leading and He is good, then can't I trust that where my steps go He has gone ahead?  Easier said than done, for sure, but it is truth and I want to believe it. Lord, help my unbelief!

4.   The people in my life are more important than the stuff in my life.  Of course we all know this. But look at how we spend our time... Are we living it? The last few days with no power, we have spent time visiting relatives, playing games with our kids, literally sitting on the front porch all afternoon blowing bubbles and lying on the couch late into the night with a single candle burning, just talking.  And it felt right, and good, and soul-nourishing, and I wonder why we don't turn things off when we have the choice?  I don't want to forget how full my heart has been as a result of slowing down and just being together.

5.  To be like Jesus, I MUST HELP those in need. I must give what I have, sacrificially, and trust God to provide for me and my family.  If we do not do this we can not call ourselves Christ-followers. I am so convicted about my selfish hoarding of resources to the point that I feel the urge to give everything away.  I am praying about what God would have us give to help others in this crisis and in the future, because that is what we are called to do!  We are not saved to sit comfortably and whine about electricity and hot water while our brothers and sisters go without food, clothing, and shelter.  (I am preaching to myself, rest assured, I did my share of whining!)

6.  I want to teach my kids to see outside the walls of their own home and their own comforts and be moved by the hurts and needs of others. They will be helping me this week gather items that can be donated to families with children who now have no toys or clothes to call their own.  I don't want them to forget this event. I want it to change them, too.  Parenting isn't always about sheltering your children from every unpleasant thing.  It is about shaping hearts to care for others and teaching them to live like Jesus.  If we don't, who will?

I know this post is a little "preachy" and I do not intend it to be, I just want to get these thoughts down in black and white before life gets back to its relentless pace and I get distracted and forget.   I want to truly SEE God in this, and my selfish heart fights me all the way.  I would love to know what things others are doing and changing as a result of this tragedy, because I think we can all inspire one another to do the good works that God has already laid out for us to do.  I love seeing believers being "Jesus with some skin on"!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eggs in the Wrong Basket

Even the best laid plans go awry.... I like plans. And lists. And predictability.  And I live in a house with people. Big people, little people, LOTS of people who rarely conform to my plans, lists, and expectations.  For the last couple of weeks, I have planned Easter menus, Easter schedules, Easter baskets, Easter clothes, Easter shoes, even Easter hair.  After all, this is the south, and we make a big fuss about these trivial things and we do it with big hair and big smiles ( Don't tell me you didn't paste on some beauty walk smiles for those cameras today.  You know you did!)  This is the story of my Easter plans gone awry.

I stayed up late to finish the Pineapple Lush Cake, iron the Easter clothes and play Easter Bunny.  I fell into bed exhausted but excited because I had the morning all planned out.  I was going to wake up early, before anyone else stirred, make a pot of coffee, get the Paula Deen Mac & Cheese going in the crock pot, set the baskets out to be found.  Well... I did wake up early, with the sun, actually... BUT it was not to the sound of my alarm.  My wake up call was a child standing beside the bed telling me that his brother needed us because he was sick. I enter his room and find him burning up with fever and complaining with his throat, head, and tummy.  Not an uncommon occurence, but definitely a curve ball I had not expected on this Easter morning.  Distracted but still calm, we tend to sick child, daddy goes back to bed and I go downstairs to conquer The List.  As soon as I get the first saucepan out I hear a little one calling "Mommeeeee!" Gracie is up and wants to join me in the kitchen, where she finds her basket of goodies. Ok, to be perfectly honest, I had really been looking forward to cooking without toddlers underfoot, but she was up, excited, and no biggie, I can still get this thing done, right?  A little more distracted, but still checking off my list.

Now at this point I realize I have somehow inadvertently entered a time warp and it is now 7:30, and I still have not showered.  Don't panic, I'll just skip the hot rollers and shave really fast and the clothes are all ready so I'm still feeling ok. Then I remember that I haven't gotten anyone else up or dressed or ready.  This is where things start to unravel.  I start to sweat, literally, figuratively, profusely, you get the picture. And I'm all of a sudden ticked off. At everyone, myself included, but mostly everyone.  I wake Daddy up and begin to bark orders and he doesn't comply (somehow I have not learned that he doesn't take orders barked in his sleeping ear very well) and I am shooing Gracie out of my bathroom because she is holding the Lysol and I'm thinking "Why isn't he up and helping?" And I'm hot, and the a/c isn't working and that makes me mad too. Because the oscillating fan makes my hair tangled and stick to my lipgloss.

The oldest child emerges from his bathroom fully dressed and ready to go (lucky for him).  Daddy is starting to get ready but I forgot to iron his clothes last night, so I take a few minutes to do that. Sick child comes upstairs to inform me that the twins have made a big mess with their goodies (no surprise there) But I know that I only put a few M&M's or jelly beans in each of their eggs SO THAT they couldn't make much mess with them.  (See, I planned so well!)  Nothing could have prepared me for what I found downstairs. They obviously took great pleasure in the opening of the plastic eggs, for they had opened all of them.  M&M's and jellybeans and plastic egg halves EVERYWHERE.  I couldn't take a step without something crunching underneath.  Keep in mind that I am already sort of simmering from all the rushing and distractions, and this mess is really turning the heat up.  Not to mention the chocolate faces and hands and I don't have TIME to clean this mess up and them too.  I'm yelling for Daddy, he's still not really hearing (amazing male ability to tune out anything that resembles drama) and both big boys have also disappeared.  So it's just me. Gotta get it done, get them clean and in these clothes so carefully laid out the night before. I'm close to tears, but mad is easier...

I clean hands and faces, brush out tangles and get them looking like they didn't just emerge from a war zone. But the war is still raging.  Everybody is tense (except maybe sick child, because he knows he will spend the day with his mom, not the crazy-step-monster) but we get in the van and head to church.  I'm fighting tears, still, but don't really want to mess up the Easter make-up, so I choke them back.  I realize how distracted I have been all morning and I feel bad, because all weekend I have truly tried to stay focused on Christ and what He did for me and what it means. And I KNOW that I have blown it this morning, but my pride is still telling me "If only he had gotten up early with me and helped I wouldn't feel this way." Or "If only anyone EVER said thank you or asked if they could help, I wouldn't feel this way."  I just can't let those pride walls down long enough to see that I made a choice to rely on MY plans this morning.  I got distracted, stayed distracted, didn't pray, didn't take time to remember what all my planning was for. To celebrate a Savior who gave His very life for me when I was still an ungrateful unrepentant sinner.  I'm close to tears, but blame is easier...

At church, I do get a reprieve, thankfully.  Little ones safe and happy in their classrooms, beautiful worship service (in which I do manage to stop thinking about me, remarkably) and a great Sunday School hour with friends and encouragement.  Everybody else is smiling here, so it is easier to smile along and put aside the stress of the morning for a while.  But then we go home.  Back to the mess. And I still have to garnish the cake and gather clothes and baskets for the afternoon festivities, and I know once those 6 kids get out of the van what it will take to get them back in it and we only have a few minutes, and once again, no one seems to be in a hurry but me.  It takes us an hour to leave and we really only had 30 minutes. In between trying to make the cake (which is now rather lopsided) look pretty, stir the macaroni, keep the children clean and load the van, I notice all those tears I had been choking back are beginning to leak out. Oh no. I do not cry pretty and we are on our way to my sister-in-law's family gathering, and they don't know I'm not (always) a basket case and I cannot pull myself together for 5 minutes.  I cry all the way there, can't stop, and no sympathy from anyone in the van because I've been such a meanie all morning and I don't even blame them, but oh how nice it would be to receive some grace right now.

Here is Grace... We all had the most wonderful afternoon.  The weather was perfect, I get some much needed sympathy from my mom and sis-in-law when they see tears (because they are moms and they KNOW) and I feel the stress start to fall away as I see the kids happy and playing and I realize that God loves me so much to give me this perfect afternoon on HIS day, when I least deserve it. And how if I had only asked for grace this morning before I started on The List, the morning would not have knocked me down so easily.  All my hopes for a glorious Easter celebration had been pinned on The List.  Not on Grace. How could I make such an arrogant mistake?  I didn't mean too, really... I just got distracted and busy. Like Martha. She is a pretty relatable character, isn't she?  I came home, started cleaning up a little, and saw this little card stuck with a push pin above my kitchen sink.  It reads "Prayer first: Prayer before anything else or there isn't anything else."  I had placed it there only days before and probably read it hundreds of times already.  But it isn't in the reading, though that is important... It is in the DOING. So tonight, with a humble heart (for now, anyway) I pray, asking for forgiveness for countless sins of pride with hope that maybe this is a lesson learned well for tomorrow. We'll soon enough find out! Tomorrow isn't Easter, and I can't get today back, and that makes me sad.  But I can start my day with prayer and celebrate a risen Savior and ask for Grace and Help and Love to splash on to others.

My precious family is really probably wondering if I have developed a personality disorder, with all the highs and lows and starts and stops on my faith journey. But the truest truth about me is that I am a work in constant progress, and will be until I die.  I wish I believed it would one day be easy.  I do believe it will one day be worth it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

One Hour: The List Goes On (and on, and on, and on....)

I have more gifts to list... Ones that I had to fight through some hormonal moodiness and kid-related stress to feel thankful for. But choosing to "fight feeling with feeling" to replace stress, hurt, anxiety, and even weariness with Thanksgiving and praise truly transformed my outlook! It works! It works! I want to shout it from the rooftops!

17.  Quiet moments in front of a sink full of dirty dishes
18.  Empty, clean, shining sink
19.  Real coffee
20.  Imaginary coffee in tiny plastic teacups
21.  Signs of progress
22.  Clean, sweet-smelling babies
23.  Changes of heart
24.  Signs (everywhere) of life
25.  Kind strangers
26.  Lists of Easter planning
27.  Chipmunk chirps
28.  Daddy home early!
29.  Young heartaches that call for hair smoothing and back-rubbing
30.  Calm after a storm
31.  The subtle "lifting" of sadness
32.  Sometimes seeing the "why" behind the "no"
33.  Friends who help
34.  The Power to CHOOSE
35.  Bright green grass with tiny purple flowers
36.  Giggles and hiccups
37.  A simple task, completed
38.  lost baseball jersey, found!
39.  A husband to iron clothes for
40.  Clothes to iron
41.  Being available to iron clothes for husband
42.  Hot, clean, running water
43.  Smell of fresh towels
44.  Feel of hot sunshine and gentle breeze
45.  Quiet of naptime

Each one, a gift from God, a thing of beauty, a kiss from a loving Father.  All of them frozen like a snap shot in my mind, simply because I took time to say "Thank You".  In all things, but especially in the hard things, like a child's heartbreak, or the tedious things, like ironing and dishes, the conscious choice to be verbally thankful restores JOY.  Oh, how I wish I had learned this secret years ago... But it isn't really a secret, is it?

"Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious- the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  Put into practice what you learned from me (Paul), what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, Who makes EVERYTHING work together, will work you into His most excellent harmonies." Philippians 4:8-9, The Message paraphrase

Monday, April 18, 2011

Notes by Chandler

This is a poem written by my son, Chandler, age 15. His poem took first place in the Huntsville Literary Association Young Writers Contest. He will present it at UAH on May 2.  I'm more than a little proud!


What is it?
It is time.
It is perfect time.
And key.
It is perfect key.
It is relief 
To the aching hearts 
That desire it.
It brings peace,
Piece by piece,
To ones
Who need it.
It is drive,
However, calm.
It is Legato,
Pulsing Rhythm.
It is something 
That can not 
Be taken away.
It is the replacement
Of silence with 
Melody and Harmony
In beautiful
What is it?
It is the 
Extravagant art
Of tone.
It is music.

One Hour

I have one hour. Between babies laying down to nap and big kids getting off the big yellow bus, I have this one singular hour that is mine. One might think it wise if I got up from my chair, folded and put away some laundry, began supper preparations, cleaned up the lunch dishes, but here I sit! Determined to journal some of the memories of this day and the weekend past.  I spent much of my time over the weekend with Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts in hand.  On the beach, in the car, at the table, in the bed, etc. I could not put it down! If the secret to JOY is truly in Thanksgiving for everyday graces and gifts, then isn't this, the journaling of it all, the very pathway to joy?  So here is this, my beginning of a list of 1000 gifts and more. Graces undeserved from a God who is Good.

1.  Moonlight walks on beach with husband
2.  Sound of ocean waves meeting shore
3.  Sound and smell of coffee brewing
3.  Long car rides and comfortable silences
4.  Strong shoulder to lay my head on
5.  Little ones in Sunday best
6.  Big smiles and even tears when Mommy and Daddy get home
7.  "I missed you Daddy" in sweet toddler-speak
8.  Wonderful parents who are even more wonderful grandparents
9.  Grown-up son in tuxedo performing God-given talents
10. Big hugs from not-so-small children
11.  Grinning blonde boy with sun-kissed cheeks
12.  Tall-girl who didn't seem quite so tall a week ago
13.  Salty breeze
14.  Kind neighbors to come home to
15.  Sheets that smell like home
16.  Return to comforting routine

And on that note, it's back to the dishes and dinner and laundry for me! I just don't want to forget these small and not so small details that give the days beauty.  I will look for more and list them, just to hold the moments still in my mind and heart.  Grace, thanksgiving, joy!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Becoming Me

I am not the woman I once was, but I am more myself than I ever have been before.... This thought keeps rolling around in my head lately as I contemplate where God has brought me from, what He has brought me through, and the changes He has made in me in the process.  I just finished up the Beth Moore study on Revelation this morning, and she said something that really helped me make sense of this seeming contradiction.  I am paraphrasing loosely, because it was not written in the book, just something she said on the dvd.  She said that in His redemptive purposes, God makes all things new, but leaves enough of the "old" identity that we can SEE  what He has done for us--  See what we have been delivered from, what we have overcome, and just how different we are as a result.

In the book Captivating, by Jon and Stasi Eldredge, she says this, "God wants to live this life together with you, to share in your days and decisions, your desires and disappointments.  He wants intimacy with you in the midst of the madness and mundane, the meetings and memos, the laundry and lists, the carpools and conversations and projects and pain.  He wants to pour His love into your heart, and He longs to have you pour yours into His. He wants your deep heart, that center place within that is the truest you.  He is not interested in intimacy with the woman you think you are supposed to be.  He wants intimacy with the real you."

So how do we come to this place of being our truest selves before God and in our relationships? Through our suffering.  Our trials, our battles, our failures, all the things that drive us to our God for help and comfort.  It has been a gradual and painful process for me, and I have a feeling that I have only just begun.  But I KNOW the changes He has made in my heart, in my thoughts, in the way I live and love, and I am most certainly not the same person I once was.  Different, and yet more comfortable with myself than ever before.  I am painfully aware of the flaws and imperfections that remain... the selfishness, the pride, the envy, the apathy that sets in when life gets to be too much... But I have learned to trust His love for me even when I am at my worst.  To know and to believe that God loves me just as much when I fail as He does when I succeed takes the pressure off of me to pretend to be something I am not.  I couldn't fool Him anyway, could I?

There is such a freedom, too wonderful for words, in being confident that NOTHING will separate me from the love of the One who rescued me from myself.  And it is this freedom that allows me to open my heart fully to others, without fear, and without first counting the cost.  Because it will cost... authentic love always does.  I can love fully only when I am convinced I am fully loved.  No human relationship on this earth can ever serve to meet that need.  What a painful lesson to learn!  How many tears have we shed over not feeling loved as we are?  And how hard have we worked to make ourselves more loveable, and in so doing, have lost the truest part of ourselves?  I may be only speaking for myself, but I have a suspicion that this where many women find themselves.

This post may read like a collection of random thoughts... I never really know because I can't read my own words objectively.  But my desire is simply to share what God is doing in my life.  Because it is real, and it is good, and because writing it helps me to process it all.  And if He works in the heart of an ordinary woman like me, maybe it will give someone else hope that He will do it for them, too!